House of Commons Hansard #100 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

Topics

Marijuana
Oral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is 2003, thousands have died from overdoses in the country and they are talking about a national drug strategy now.

Marijuana by itself or in a combination with alcohol can produce a deadly potion when driving a vehicle. A recent Ontario survey indicated that 20% of the students drove a vehicle within two hours of smoking pot.

Will the government table a roadside assessment process and regulations for marijuana at the same time as it brings in decriminalization of marijuana?

Marijuana
Oral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Outremont
Québec

Liberal

Martin Cauchon Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I just would like to mention that if we look at the report of the standing committee of the House, which was tabled last year, the party of the hon. member has supported the idea of proceeding with alternative measures and decriminalization.

Having said that, when we are talking about the national drug strategy, we are talking about investing in research. We are talking about better enforcement. The message that we want to send to all Canadians is that the use of drugs in Canada is illegal. We want to ensure that people understand it is harmful to their health. As well, we want to ensure that we proceed with much better enforcement.

Employment Insurance
Oral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Bloc

Ghislain Fournier Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, on October 11, transitional measures for employment insurance in the Lower St. Lawrence, along the North Shore and in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean will come to an end.

Is the government aware that not only is it refusing to help softwood lumber and fisheries workers, but what is worse, with the end of the transitional measures, the program will be even harder on them?

Employment Insurance
Oral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Brant
Ontario

Liberal

Jane Stewart Minister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is correct that we have had transitional measures in place in three different areas across the country as we have been implementing new employment insurance boundaries.

I am happy to say that as a result of a good working relationship in the areas, we are finding new and diversified work opportunities for Canadians in these regions. We continue to look at the impact of these transitional measures and are happy to see that, as we work together at the community level, with my department and other regional departments, more work is being found and that the solutions which Canadians want, which is work as opposed to benefits, are becoming more--

Employment Insurance
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Frontenac—Mégantic.

Agriculture
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Liberal

Gérard Binet Frontenac—Mégantic, QC

Mr. Speaker, certain provinces appear to be ready to sign implementation agreements for the agricultural policy framework.

Can the parliamentary secretary provide the House with the latest news regarding the implementation of the agricultural policy framework?

Agriculture
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Portneuf
Québec

Liberal

Claude Duplain Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, the member for Frontenac—Mégantic has raised a very relevant question, since Newfoundland and Labrador is the first province to sign an agreement with the Government of Canada to implement the agricultural policy framework.

The federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Minister for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the Minister of Forest Resources and Agrifoods for Newfoundland and Labrador signed this agreement, and made the announcement this morning.

Congratulations to Newfoundland and Labrador. We are confident that we will be signing other agreements with other provinces in the very near future.

Softwood Lumber
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, the Minister for International Trade is poised to accept a 15% export tax on Canadian softwood lumber. This would rise to 25% once our exports cause the Americans to lose market share.

It is obvious to all that the softwood lumber tariffs have never been about subsidies; tariffs have always been about market share. The minister's amateur handling of softwood lumber has cost Canadians thousands of jobs.

Is the minister now prepared to put his job on the line?

Softwood Lumber
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Papineau—Saint-Denis
Québec

Liberal

Pierre Pettigrew Minister for International Trade

Mr. Speaker, for two and a half years we have worked as a united country, industry east and west, Quebec and British Columbia, the provinces as well, and I think that we are going places.

The member is raising a hypothesis of 15% or 25%. I do not know about what he is talking.

I will never stand for an export tax that would not be a ramp up toward total free trade in softwood lumber. We are talking sometimes about a transition and transitory measures but it would be something that would last for months, certainly not forever.

Presence in Gallery
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

I wish to draw the attention of hon. members to the presence in the gallery of His Excellency Dr. Antonio Martins da Cruz, Minister of Foreign Affairs and for the Portuguese Communities of the Portuguese Republic.

Presence in Gallery
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

May 12th, 2003 / 3 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wish to apologize and withdraw an unparliamentary word that I used in my question. The urgency of the matter and the minister's early response prompted such colourful language, but I apologize and take full responsibility.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair has notice of a question of privilege from the hon. Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a question of privilege relating to the matter of parliamentary privilege exempting members from being called as witnesses in any court when the House is in session.

On April 23, the British Columbia Court of Appeal rendered its decision in what is known as the Ainsworth case. The issue in that case was whether the member for LaSalle—Émard could claim that parliamentary privilege provided him with a lawful reason for failing to attend an examination for discovery.

Before going further, I wish to outline that I am not raising this issue at the request of the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard, and I did only inform him on Friday that I was raising it in the House as a matter of courtesy. Rather I had discussions with a number of officials around this place and people elsewhere immensely concerned with the issue of privilege which I am about to raise.

In his text, Parliamentary Privilege in Canada, Joseph Maingot states at page 161:

A Member of the Senate or House of Commons is not required to answer a subpoena to attend as a witness before a court of law in either criminal or civil matter or before administrative or military court or tribunal. The immunity extends to the same period of time as exemption from civil arrest, i.e. 40 days before and after a session, and 40 days after a dissolution.

This privilege is based on the tradition in the United Kingdom long before Confederation and has been the practice of this House since 1867.

In the Ainsworth decision, the B.C. court confirmed the existence of parliamentary privilege of members against participating in legal proceedings when Parliament was in session. The court recognized that this applied throughout the parliamentary session, including adjournments and other periods when the Houses were not sitting.

However the court ruled that there was no legal support for extending this privilege for 40 days before or after a parliamentary session, and here is the problem.

There are therefore aspects of the court's ruling that are consistent with Canadian practice since 1867, but the court's interpretation of parliamentary privilege calls into question a privilege asserted by Parliament and members of this House and members of provincial legislatures with respect to the so-called 40 day rule.

The courts ruling raises an important issue for us. This is the question of whether it is the role of Parliament or the role of the courts to define what parliamentary privilege is.

It seems to me that the Constitution and the convention provide that it is for Parliament to state what its privileges are with respect to matters related to Parliament and its proceedings.

I would suggest that it is the tradition of Parliament that the 40 day rule is a privilege related to the functioning of Parliament. In such matters, it seems to me that is for Parliament and not the courts to decide what is or not a matter of parliamentary privilege.

If Parliament decides that 40 days should be 35, 32, 6 or 50, that is within the jurisdiction of Parliament to make that decision.

In this context I want to quote what Madam Justice Beverley McLachlin, Her Ladyship, now Chief Justice of Canada, stated in the New Brunswick Broadcasting case. On behalf of the court, she said:

It has long been accepted that in order to perform their functions, legislative bodies require certain privileges relating to the conduct of their business. It has also long been accepted that these privileges must be held absolutely and constitutionally if they are to be effective...

Not partially, not anything else, absolutely and constitutionally if they are to be effective, if I can put emphasis on that part of Her Ladyship's statement. She went on to say:

--the legislative branch of our government must enjoy a certain autonomy which even the Crown and the courts cannot touch.

This is very important to all parliamentarians. It has been historically understood that this privilege was extended for a period of 40 days before and after a parliamentary session.

More importantly, the House of Commons has the fundamental and prior right to the attendance and service of its members in the best interests of Canadians.

As indicated, the House and its members have historically enjoyed a number of rights and privileges allowing them to perform their essential functions. Recognition of these privileges is fundamental, to ensure the proper functioning of our democratic institutions.

It is the duty of this House and all its members, as well as yours, Mr. Speaker, to affirm and uphold these privileges without, of course, interfering with the ongoing judicial process.

For these reasons, I ask that you decide whether there is a prima facie question of privilege and, if so, refer this matter to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Naturally, in due course, I will gladly move the motion necessary to bring this bill to fruition.

In conclusion, it is important for all of us to be the guardians of our privileges. If we do not and if this decision is allowed to stand, who is to say that someone else in another court at another time could not produce an opinion that privilege does not exist in the morning, on the weekend, on a day off or at other times of the day when there are generally not votes around here. Then someone could take advantage of that, subpoena an MP so that he or she could not vote on an issue important to him or her or the constituents, thereby affecting the result of something we could decide upon in the House.

This is very important for all of us. It is at the root of our system of parliamentary democracy. This privilege has existed for hundreds of years. I believe it is our duty, all of us, to send the issue to a parliamentary committee. I hope you, Mr. Speaker, will determine that there is a prima facie case of privilege. I hope all colleagues will agree with me that there is so our privileges, as an institution, can be safeguarded, not only for ourselves but for those who will sit in this venerable chamber in the future to represent Canadians.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, there are three privileges dealing with the attendance of members and the potentiality for a conflict between duty to Parliament and duty to obey a court order. These privileges are freedom from arrest, freedom from giving evidence, and freedom from serving on a jury. It should be noted that these privileges do not involve cases of criminal matters or breaches of provincial statutes that involve the summary jurisdiction of the Criminal Code. They apply only to civil cases.

Historically, and according to Joseph Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada , “The first privilege accorded to parliamentarians in England was an assurance that the Barons and other Lords were not impeded on their way to the council with the monarch because of civil process”.

We have run out of barons and lords in the House of Commons to a large extent, except for the odd few in the cabinet over there. Maingot continues:

The concern was to secure the attendance of Members, and it remains to this day the principal reason for the privilege of freedom from arrest, from attending as a witness in a court or elsewhere than Parliament, and from serving on a jury. This is because the most important body in the country, the Parliament of Canada, has the first call on the services of its Members and...Parliament will not tolerate impediments to Members who are on their way to attend the sittings.

It seems reasonable that a member could ignore an order to appear before court if called to attend a vote in the House if that vote was considered important. If a member were to be charged with contempt of court in such a case, it seems reasonable that the House should protect that member. In such a conflict, the duty to Parliament clearly outweighs the duty to the courts.

The potential for the abuse of these privileges seem to arise out of the automatic nature of the immunity and when a member uses the privilege for personal advantage.

On November 25, 1998, a private member's motion was debated in the House. It was worded as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, members of the House of Commons and senators should be treated equally before the law and therefore the parliamentary privilege that allows members of the House of Commons and senators to refuse to give evidence in a Canadian court of law should be abolished.

Robert Fife wrote a column about the motion entitled “Lawmakers above the law”. He cited the cases when in 1989 NDP MP Dave Barrett claimed parliamentary immunity to avoid a summons in a case involving non-payment of his leadership debts and when Conservative Senator Eric Berntson used the privilege to excuse himself from answering a subpoena in a trial involving a fraud ring that operated in the Tory caucus of former Saskatchewan premier Grant Devine.

Since the motion was not votable and the House did not take a decision on the issue, the privilege is in play and we should of course do what we need to do to defend it, keeping in mind the details and potential abuse.

The government House leader is raising a concern today about a B.C. Supreme Court ruling involving the member for LaSalle—Émard. He asserts that the Constitution and convention provide that it is for Parliament to state what its privileges are with respect to matters related to Parliament and its proceedings. He claims that it is for Parliament and not the courts to define what is or is not a matter of parliamentary privilege.

On Thursday, May 8, 2003, the Canadian Alliance proposed a motion, which read:

That this House call upon the government to bring in measures to protect and reassert the will of Parliament against certain court decisions that: (a) threaten the traditional definition of marriage as decided by the House as, “the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others”; (b) grant house arrest to child sexual predators and make it easier for child sexual predators to produce and possess child pornography; and (c) grant prisoners the right to vote.

The same minister who is defending his colleague, the member for LaSalle—Émard, and defending the rights of Parliament against a court ruling participated in the debate on Thursday. This is what he said last Thursday:

Some members of the House have suggested that the courts are assuming a role that is not contemplated in the Constitution. That is close to ridiculous. Such comments may cause people to question the legitimacy of the courts. In a society where we value the law, comments like this coming from parliamentarians run totally contrary to the principles we are called upon to defend in this Chamber, collectively and individually...The independence of the judiciary is fundamental. Judges' independence must be respected, both individually and collectively.

When it comes to protecting children from child sexual predators, preserving the traditional definition of marriage as established by the House and defending against court rulings that allow prisoners to vote against the will of Parliament, the minister ridicules any attempt to use the authority of Parliament. When it comes to defending the next prime minister, he is on his feet pleading that the House take action.

Joseph Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada sums up the privileges of freedom from arrest as a protection from arrest for any civil process, such as failing to obey any order or judgment of the court in a civil matter, including civil contempt. A member of Parliament does not have immunity from arrest in criminal matters and may be imprisoned for a criminal or quasi-criminal offence, including criminal contempt of court.

On the other hand, page 158 suggests that the House has the authority to intervene if it feels the circumstances are extraordinary:

While neither House of Parliament has waived or would likely waive its right to intervene if and when Members are convicted and committed for contempt [of court], and thus could in theory consider each case on its merits, it is unlikely that either House of Parliament would take any matter into consideration relating to the civil process unless the circumstances were extraordinary. It is also unlikely that Parliament would actually interfere in a criminal arrest of a Member, including criminal contempt of court. While cases may arise, the position of the House of Commons...suggests that...[the] House will at least investigate every such matter brought to its attention in order to be assured that the privileges of Parliament are not affected.

Therefore, if the House has the authority to intervene in extraordinary cases to protect its privileges, then members do not need an automatic privilege of freedom from arrest. This would be consistent with most other cases involving members' privileges. When members feel that their privileges have been breached, they first raise it with the Speaker, who determines whether or not there is a prima facie case of privilege. If the member's question of privilege is prima facie, then the House considers the case and makes a decision.

With respect to being required to attend as a witness, once again the problem is not with the idea that the House has first call on the service of its members but the automatic immunity granted to a member. As it stands now, the House would likely uphold a member's privilege of freedom from giving evidence without question. The House should instead consider the circumstances and decide based on the merits of the case.

If the former minister of finance was formally charged with contempt of court, then the action should be taken seriously and the House should consider the matter. I point out again that the courts have made decisions with more serious consequences, yet the government has failed to act. Everything else seems to warrant the member for LaSalle—Émard absenting himself from the House, such as fundraisers and flipping hotdogs, but not a court subpoena. He has his priorities.